The Life and Times of a Disenfranchised Christian, volume iv: Church without Churches
There’s a lot of conversation going around about a movement of people that’s been labeled many different things – you can take your pick from “the new face of religion in America”, or “a new way to do church”, or “A new kind of Christian“, or “the new Christians“, or the more socio-religious sounding label, “emergent“. I can’t claim to be up to speed on the different viewpoints and contributors out there, though I could probably name some names, but I can safely locate myself somewhere smack in the middle of that conversation as a person who’s become disillusioned with the popular expression of Christianity in America to the point that I avoid identifying myself as a Christian in mixed company.
I recognize that my stance has evolved reactively in some ways, as I’ve identified what kind of Christian I’m not and what sort of things I don’t do relative to what most people seem to believe or expect of Christians, including people who identify themselves as such. I wrote in a previous post how I’ve left the organized church recently as the center of my faith journey, and struck out on a new path that includes church as a habit and resource but which I hope opens me up to a more diverse and personally authentic experience of God in ways that looking to the/a church first and foremost in my pursuit of God precluded me from.
Communities have sprung up around this premise, exploring the possibility that the spiritual life proclaimed and ushered in by Jesus can be pursued outside of an organized and codified religion. It’s an extension in a way of Luther’s assertion that God can be pursued by individuals independent of the ministration of the ordained, where again there is a cultural recognition that there’s more to faith and finding God than is evident (or arguably possible) in the exclusive context of a local organized church. I’m not knocking organization itself, or leadership in the context of an assembled group of people of like pursuit. Without leaders and organization any movement is doomed to fail, whether necessary and helpful or not. Even rebellions or other causes that reject these establishments still have their de facto leaders and make efforts to share common beliefs. It seems though that faith that finds its source in an organization is lacking.
I read The Alchemist recently, a simple parable-like story of one boy’s pursuit of his dreams and exploration of spirituality. While not categorically a Christian book, it inspired me in my pursuit of faith at a point in my life when I needed it most desperately, when my general happiness was already forfeit and my dreams were in jeopardy. What struck me most was the tale’s straightforward view of the supernatural and spirituality, and the simplicity of the boy’s passion in his pursuit of what he felt mattered most. It seems to me as though the one is a catalyst for the other – when spiritual things are uncluttered by religion and unaffected by doubt or apathy, but simply allowed to be, and to be as real as gravity or love or time which are impervious to how fervently they are believed in, then apprehending and pursuing spiritual things and the deeper dreams and passions of life is as straightforward a process as living, and living with eyes open for the opportunities that inevitably present themselves. Life becomes rich and meaningful, and laden with daily significance.
I was about to write a paragraph relating this world view to Christianity but it seems paradoxical to the point of this post. It’s what I’m after – relating to God in a way that is uncontrived though it may involve habit or ritual, and significant to my daily life though the nature of the pursuit itself is unearthly. I don’t think this approach is incompatible with the Christian faith; I hope instead that it leads to a deeper appreciation of who God is and how then to live.